Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Candidates in the Ontario Liberal Party’s race to become the next leader kicked off the first official debate Thursday in Thunder Bay, Ont., by taking aim at perceived front−runner Bonnie Crombie.
MP Nate Erskine−Smith, MP and former provincial cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi, and Ted Hsu, a former Liberal MP and current provincial caucus member, all offered criticisms, both veiled and not so veiled, of the Mississauga mayor.
The three variously brought up donations she has taken from developers, her track record on housing as mayor, and some early campaign missteps such as statements that she would be open to Greenbelt land swaps in certain circumstances.
“Trust is really important and we have to be very mindful in this instance,” Naqvi said.
“You cannot elect a leader who one day says they’re going to open the Greenbelt, and the next day changes their mind, or one who takes money from the same people who are donating to Doug Ford, and says that somehow they’re going to act any different.”
The Trillium looked at fundraising data and reported that Crombie’s campaign has received more donations from developers and builders.
Hsu came to Crombie’s defence on the latter point, but took a shot of his own.
“Let me just say here that we need developers,” he said. “There are a lot of good developers. We need people to build housing, but I think one thing that we can do to build trust is write down your housing policy first, and then go ask for money.”
Erskine−Smith said Mississauga is not building enough housing and that Crombie has expressed reservations about recommendations from Ontario’s housing affordability task force for increasing supply.
“Experience does matter, but what matters more is what you do with that experience, and two issues that voters are going to absolutely need to trust us on the next election, are housing and the Greenbelt,” he said.
“Are we going to win with a leader who has a track record of failing to build homes with that experience? And are we going to win with a leader who said they’re going to open up the Greenbelt and then the next week said, I didn’t mean it, the Greenbelt is sacred? How do you build trust?”
Crombie, who said Thursday she would take an unpaid leave of absence as mayor to campaign for Liberal leader, said she is proud of her record on housing in Mississauga.
“We have unlimited heights and densities in our downtown. I have 135 towers − unlimited heights − being built in the next 25 years, (with) 35 of them in the next five years, waterfront mixed−use communities being built. People want to live in Mississauga, and I’m so proud to be the mayor.”
Crombie also boasted of a key quality she said would make her a good Liberal leader.
“I’ve had the opportunity to go toe to toe with Doug Ford on many occasions, and I know that I rankle him,” she said. “And I think that’s a pretty good thing.”
Current provincial caucus member Adil Shamji made his pitch in the opening statements by leaning heavily on his experience as an emergency room physician and on the time he spent working in northern Ontario, where the debate took place.
“I’ve written a lot of prescriptions in my life, but I’ve never been able to write a prescription for housing, groceries or clean air and the closest I can get is elected office,” he said. “The opportunity to serve as leader of our party and next premier of Ontario is the chance to write those prescriptions for 15 million people.”
The party is set to host four more debates, in Stratford, Toronto, Ottawa and Brampton, through to mid−November. Party members will cast their ranked ballots on the weekend of Nov. 25 and the winner is to be unveiled Dec. 2.
banner image: The Canadian Press